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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

District 13: Ultimatum [Blu-ray]

(aka "Banlieue 13 - Ultimatum" or "B13: Ultimatum" or "B13-U")

 

(Patrick Alessandrin, 2009)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: Europa

Blu-ray: Magnet (Magnolia Home Entertainment)

 

Disc:

Region: FREE! (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 1:41:00.554

Disc Size: 35,543,941,712 bytes

Feature Size: 29,202,511,872 bytes

Video Bitrate: 18.10 Mbps

Chapters: 12

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: April 27th, 2010

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: VC-1 Video

 

 

Audio:

DTS-HD Master Audio English 2419 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 2419 kbps / 16-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 16-bit)
DTS-HD Master Audio French 4537 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 4537 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)

 

Subtitles:

English (SDH), English, Spanish, none

 

Extras:

• The Making of District 13: Ultimatum – in SD (26:30)

• Production Diary – in SD (34:30)

• Alonzo Déterminé Music Video – in SD (3:35)

• Deleted & Extended Scenes – in SD (9:20)

• HDNet: A Look at District 13: Ultimatum – in HD

 

 

The Film: 6
The sequel, starting three years after the first movie, again stars Cyril Raffaelli as Captain Damien Tomaso of the Police Special Forces and David Belle as Leito, local, agile nice guy who still lives in the tenements of District 13.

Like the original movie, whose tag line could have been "Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose", the district that was home to slum dwellers and militia gangs of Chinese, Blacks, Arabs, Skinheads and what all, is still home to Chinese, Blacks, Arabs, Skinheads and what all, where an uneasy truce (read: powder keg) exists between them and the cops. The new government has failed to keep a promise to clean up and regenerate the neighborhood. Meanwhile, a renegade cadre of government special forces under the leadership of Gassman (Daniel Duval) have set into motion a plan to ignite a civil war whose only solution is to bomb the hell out of B-13 so that "Harriburton" (sic) the celebrated reconstruction company, can do what they best. (I was expecting something about kickbacks but writer Luc Besson sidestepped that motive for some reason.)

My proposed tag line suggests a tape loop of a repeating history that could apply as well to the plot contrivances and to the basic idea for the stunts as well, except for how much more interesting Raffaelli has become, both as a stuntman and an actor. (In my researches I discovered his presence in, among other things, the first two Transporter movies, The Incredible Hulk (the one with Ed Norton), Wasabi (with Jean Reno), and Le Pacte des loups (aka: The Brotherhood of the Wolf – and one of my favorite films in the genre).

Leito's first chase scene is not nearly as interesting as any of the other set pieces in the original movie – or this one. He's just some guy running. Also it doesn't go anywhere except to remind us who the character is and to witness how things have deteriorated in District 13 in the intervening three years. But all that is made clear in the montage under the opening credits, so there's no need to recapitulate. I wouldn't bring him into the movie until 25-30 minutes into it, not until after the marvelous extended fight scene and escape by Damien (Raffaelli), who is much more interesting in the sequel. By comparison, Belle (who is only a year older and took our breath away in the first movie with his rooftop jumps and generally awesome gymnastics) looks tired by comparison, which means that he can still outrun, outjump, and outmaneuver just about anyone alive.

As many critics have pointed out, we don't go to see movies like District 13 for its clockwork plot and character development – which reminds me: I could have used more screen time from Elodie Yung as the gal with the deadly braid - but for the jaw-dropping action sequences, which, we are told, are performed pretty much as you see them. Still, you know you're in trouble if, midway into the movie, you find yourself longing for The Warriors (with apologies to Walter Hill.)


 

Image: 8/9   NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

I have no doubt that Magnolia's Blu-ray transfer is faithful to the processed negative. I found no disturbing artifacts and source print appears flawless. Blacks are solid and colors, vivid. That said, this is one strange looking film: There's hardly a sharp frame in it, and just about every still shot has such a narrow depth of field whose focus is just off enough that we're itching to get things to get in motion again. I suspect this is the intent – and a clever subterfuge it is. Add to this a heightened contrast and color that adds to the frenetic feel of the movie. This is a movie that never wants to sit still.

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 6/2
Magnolia offers two uncompressed audio tracks in DTS-HD MA 5.1: the original French and an English dub. The latter is so pathetic that I could barely distinguish one character from another (Where do they get these actors from anyway!). Fortunately for those who disdain subtitles, there isn't a great deal of dialogue, and what there is of it won't strain the mind, so go with the French, please.

Perhaps I was more influenced by what I felt was a boring techno music track with little invention and practically no weight or authority that I couldn't make a proper assessment of the effects. In some ways the one is so mixed with the other, it's all one clangy goulash (with apologies to the Hungarians.) There are some well-judged effects, however: The scene at the restaurant where Damien is in drag places the "live" music (ugh) properly muffled when the door to the boss's office is closed. Ho-hum. And the action scenes have lots of localized effects and pans and all those bangs, crashes and things breaking that we come to expect from an action film. Yet the music has this way of unintentionally compressing its high energy action into a drum machine. You can tell I didn't like the music, yeah?

 

Operations: 7
The disc loads promptly after a few logos and unforced previews. The menu is clearly organized, if unimaginative. Audio and subtitle tracks are readily accessible from the remote as well as the menu. I could have used a few more chapters.

 

Extras: 6
There is no commentary, but the two main documentaries cover the ground nicely, if not thoroughly: The 26-minute Making-Of piece runs us through the choice of locations (Serbia for the crumbling, futuristic District 13, Paris for the government and police buildings). There's a lengthy segment on the stunt coordination: Cyril managed the combat stuntman, David, the action group, but Cyril is the overall stunt choreographer (we learn that the Van Gogh idea was Luc's.) David talks a little about parkour, the action mind and body set that he more or less developed, and we get to see how most of the stunts are pulled off: keep your eyes open, these go by quickly. The Production Diaries are a loose, but extensive series of behind-the-scenes bits. There is no narration here, but the footage is self-guiding. All of this is subtitled and the picture quality is very good standard definition. The 16x9 SD music video looks pretty good as well. There is also an HDNet piece that I didn't check out.

 

 

Bottom line: 7
If you can tolerate the music and have the proper mind set for what District 13: Ultimatum will deliver, then you should have a good time with this Blu-ray. The movie is hardly any better or any worse than the original. So if you've the seen the one, you should know that, except for Raffaelli, there is no really good reason to see the other unless you want to see more of the same – which is good reason enough. The Magnolia is also releasing a double feature Blu-ray at the same time with the original movie, presumably the same disc Magnolia published back in 2007. The price is good – only an additional $10.00 for both movies.

[a note on the titles: The original French title is "Banlieue 13" "Banlieue" means "District". So the U.S. title "District B13" is kind of redundant.]

Leonard Norwitz
April 11th, 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.


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